With instinct my only guide, I ring Roy Keane in his hotel bedroom, half expecting the call to be blocked.
Miraculously, the call is answered.
"HELLO!" barks an impatient voice at the other end. Bizarrely, the comedic image of Radio Roy snaps to mind and the immediate temptation is to blurt out a stuttering reply a la Mario. 'Ah Roy, ho-ho-ho-ha-ha-ha, you had me at hello.'
The real voice interrupts the untimely reverie.
"HELLO!" once more. And then the request, supplied with the trepidation of someone who knows how fiery a character the then-captain of Manchester United and one-time Ireland captain can be.
"Hello, it's David Kelly from 'Ireland On Sunday', Roy. I was just calling to see whether you were checking out today." CLICK. The 'phone line goes dead. The scent has been picked up.
And so the siege will begin. How long it might take, nobody knows. What the desired result will be is equally vague. Coffee and cigarettes for breakfast again.
Maybe it all started with the decision to turn left, rather than right. Call it a premonition. Even if we didn't understand a word of it.
Ray Treacy stands sentry-like in the doorway of the aircraft awaiting the final leg of an exhaustive journey.
Suddenly, yet furtively, the former Ireland international clasps an arm and whispers in an ear, his dancing eyes darting one way as another arm indiscreetly directs other passengers in the opposite direction.
"Mr Kelly, take a seat in here," gestures our travel agent (lamentably since passed on), still filing boarding passengers with the cheery haste of an impatient cinema usher.
The passenger is donning what would be a familiar guise. Dishevelment. A back page deadline for a Sunday paper looms, jostling with tiredness to form a nagging, needling headache. The first of many.
Maybe the three-hour flight from Tokyo to Saipan can compensate for the sleepless disorder of the near half-day trek from Amsterdam. It seems like several days since the leaving of Dublin where the germ of the back page first emerged. Only one story. Only one name.
The anger on his face as the Taoiseach stoops to shake his hand; Roy Keane remaining, stubbornly, seated on the airport floor as inane jolly green nonsense unfurls all around him.
Steve Staunton, inevitably bound for a century of caps during the World Cup, is approached, tentatively, as one might an uncertain dancing partner, with the prospect of an interview in the relaxing surrounds of our Pacific Island destination.
It's going to be a long summer. And it's not even summer yet. The World Cup starts in June. This is May. There is already a looming sense that there is too much time on everyone's hands. Little do we know it will soon become the most priceless of currencies.
In Amsterdam on the ground, we drink, and from Amsterdam into the air we drink some more. We also drink in more of Keane's annoyance and anger as he visits the airplane bleachers.
The Sunderland testimonial and all that. Niall Quinn chips in, too. Key characters in an as yet unwritten novel. Hold the back page. But first, hold my beer.
And so to Saipan. Turning left instead of right. As we sit down, we look right instead of left. A bottle of Jack Daniels. And alongside, a Japanese businessman of approximately similar height.
Jack will be our interpreter. We share not one coherent word in three hours but many clinks of glass. As we prepare to arrive, he seems to mimic the plane landing but instead gestures with his gold-bejewelled hand at a magazine article.
The Suicide Cliffs. Where more than a thousand civilians plunged to their deaths rather than be taken prisoner by the Americans in 1944. We've read of them and, like the players, intend to visit.
Funny how just a few months ago we'd never heard of this island in the vast Pacific. Soon we would wish we never had. A witness to a history that nobody wanted to happen.
* * * * *
Saipan is steaming but when the work is done, Saturday night is Saturday night no matter where. The story is filed and the pub is located. The Beefeater. It is a step below the Irish office pub, Bellamy's of Ballsbridge, but the competition is not exactly fierce on the island. Genial American hosts welcome the thirstiest troops since the 2nd Marine forces docked in '44. We're here all week. Marking our territory.
Sunday. The black dog needs the hair of the dog. There is a barbecue later and a whole week of nothing until Saturday's friendly on the mainland.
We had suggested, perhaps guiltily given the inordinate expense required to send a Sunday hack for week's holiday, that the newspaper add an internet dimension to our coverage.
We could provide a daily update? 'Why bother?' came the reply. So we order another beer and smoke another cigarette.
There is a barbecue in the team hotel on Sunday night. Players and press are invited to mingle as if one cheerful, cheerleading cohort.
The concept is as absurd as the entertainment, Keane urging the swordsmith to cut the head off a fellow journalist. The laughter of the innocents. We repair to our sequestered 'local' to debate election results but some players are already there. An awkward shuffle ensues. They request we leave. We plead finders, keepers.
Wise sages from cheerier days find accommodation. A pact of omerta. "I used to be among the crowd you're in with." An entente cordiale. Make mine a double.
And so we remember nothing about the wild drunken eyes of the Dubliner, the insane rage of the countryman, the tottering duo playing the spoons on the drunken domes of the writers, the young tyros who only want to play pool while the senior citizens argue at the table.
We forget it all. We are here to relax. We are here to prepare for the preparation. So pull up a chair and have another drink. But we do remember something. Two midfielders didn't come to the bar. Lee Carsley is the other one.
Morning after guilt is different from hangover pain. A sense that none of last night should have happened. Or at least none of it should have happened to all of us.
It seems like we've just participated in one elaborate ruse. As we stumble across the street in dusty daylight, it is as if each drunken step is unwittingly dodging an unexploded landmine.
A depression which spawned within me in Dublin Airport is deeper now and the black dog growls ever fiercer as the days stretch yawningly on this island prison.
A 6am golf invite on Thursday offers the mildest diversion.
I haven't played a round since breaking a nine-iron in addled anger aged 16. And when this one is over, I will never play again.
The landmine has exploded. There has been a newspaper interview. There is a meeting. And a press conference. And more meetings. And another press conference. And the depression gets deeper. There is so much to write about but nowhere to write it. Sunday seems weeks away.
On Friday morning, as the players and journalists prepare to depart, where can the story go from here? The answer is simple. The story stays here. The office have staked everything on parlaying a shambling hack's hapless uselessness into something beneficial.
Their English bosses have purportedly secured a six-figure deal to interview Keane once he arrives in Manchester. They want me to make sure he gets there.
A flight to Manchester is booked. I've already checked out of the hotel but I cannot leave. Yet. It's a preposterous suggestion and it is mercifully withdrawn. Keane must still be man-marked though.
An FAI man has insisted Keane has not remained in the hotel. Believing the opposite of what the FAI say has always been a decent instinct.
The short walk to the team hotel but on arrival, the sinking feeling that I am not alone.
Two colleagues, Paul Lennon from 'The Star' and Paul Hyland, once of this parish, soon arrive. They may be behind me but they are actually ahead; their papers come out on Saturday; mine a day later. There are photographers, too. And the BBC. Pull up a chair! Coffee and cigarettes for breakfast and lunch.
Keane is still in room 758 of the sprawling Hyatt Hotel complex. The call is made. It confirms he has stayed. At least. So we wait. And wait.
A visit to the bottom of the garden, the sight of the barbecue where Keane's misgivings about this week's trip first came to light, a small gap in the curtains of room 758 reveals he is still holed up in his room.
He had come down earlier for breakfast earlier, a helpful hotel worker reveals. 'That's great, you can relax now,' we tell her. 'We can't relax until Mr Keane is gone,' she says with exasperation. We know the feeling.
The early morning phone call had been made at 9.30 and we sit patiently for the next five hours, anxiously watching the lift each time the door opens. No words are spoken, only fretful glances, occasionally lost in clouds of wispy cigarette smoke.
Then we are told his dinner has been served to his room. There is a dilemma. To have any chance of continuing to cover Ireland's World Cup, a World Cup that now looks increasingly unlikely to include Keane, we must take the initiative.
We decide to go up to his room.
An early sortie reveals a variety of coded entry points have to be evaded in order to reach his corridor. We must shake off the snappers and the TV guys, too.
As the hotel manager, an already annoyingly officious presence, flits about nervously, we embark upon our mission. A foot in the lift door gains us access to the seventh floor, from where we stealthily make our way towards room 758.
Then, a security guard emerges from a hidden passageway, brandishing a Uzi and a smile as wide as the ocean. We state our business, lying about a supposed rendezvous with our quarry.
The security guard demurs, but then makes a series of telephone calls; remarkably, he urges us to follow him towards the sanctity of Keane's bedroom.
"He is expecting you?" "Erm, yes," comes the unconvincing reply.
The nominated negotiator is Paul Lennon, a former nemesis but now apparently rehabilitated. 'Sometimes I forget who it is I'm not talking to,' Keane once said.
We knock. Then 'Hello,' snarled with that familiar accent. We pause, silently. The door opens.
Keane stands, bare-chested. We stand, weak-kneed. I click a hidden Dictaphone. "Roy, everyone has left. There are only three journalists left on the island."
"Where are they then?"
A wicked smile curves into Keane's granite-like features. "Ah, Jesus, go on the Roy," pipes up Paul Hyland, his erstwhile Boswell in another World Cup.
"Michael Kennedy said you might speak to us. A few words would do it." Keane pauses to think. Behind him a live recording of Bob Dylan booms from a CD discman and echoes throughout the seventh floor. A colleague remarks on the choice of blues music; Keane grimaces as he may have done when he felt assailed in a team meeting less than 24 hours earlier.
Luckily, I am also a Dylan fan and recognise the album. 'Before the Flood.' Or, Apres Roy, le deluge.
"Naw, everybody's going to get stoned," I offer. "Rainy Day Women No 12 and 45."
"Wha?" Roy asks. "Dylan," I reply.
"Yeah, something to cheer me up!" His face lights up and we know we have our man. He laughs. He'll have a quick few words now and then meet us somewhere else later. He doesn't want the snappers to turn the event into a circus. It's just him and us. His window to the world that he wants to get off.
How do you feel (to quote another Dylan song)? "Fine, great, never felt better," he says stridently. "I just can't wait to get back home to my wife and kids. There are some things more important than this in life and my family is one of them. I just want to see them again."
Any regrets then, Roy? "Absolutely none," he says. "I was asked for my opinion on certain matters and I gave it. It's then up to other people to make whatever judgment they want to make about it. I've had my say and that's all I can do. And I don't want to comment on what other people have said. That's their concern."
All that you can't leave behind, then. (Jeez, we're quoting Bono now.) Or can he?
"It's done with as far as I'm concerned. That's it. I would like to see Ireland do well in the World Cup. Of course I would. But as far as I'm concerned, it's done with."
And with that, we leave, armed with the most valuable dictaphones in the world. Our arrangement to meet later is set in stone. Or so we think.
The hotel directs us to another meeting place and insists that Keane will meet us there. We plead that our own arrangements have been made. But a brace of security guards on every other conceivable exit convinces us that officialdom of this nature is not for turning.
Now we're the ones who are trapped.
After sitting for 10 minutes in one location, knowing that we were meant to meet him somewhere else, a flurry of activity at the front of the hotel confirms our suspicions. He's on the move.
We hop into a cab; the driver stubbornly refuses to budge from the legal speed limit of 30mph.
The arrival of a dual carriageway, and the giddy heights of 40mph, fails to raise our spirits. Keane leads the tortoise Grand Prix; the snappers and BBC are second. Somehow, we have managed to go from first to last.
On arrival in the airport, we are asked if our friend Mr Keane is travelling. 'You betcha!' we tell the man from Northwest Airlines.
As we undergo the now already familiarly thorough post-September 11 security checks, Keane is already in the airport and, surely, on our 4.55 NW 75 flight to Nirata airport in Tokyo.
The cat is in the bag and the bag is in the river. But the bag has burst. Using his legendary ruse of purchasing several different flight tickets, Keane has evaded our dogged scent.
And so to Izumo. A week that has felt like a year ends with a friendly against Hiroshima in Izumo. A World Cup will start any day now. Time for another drink.
After all, we've all got to move on.
My next one-to-one chat with Keane came in 2010, nearly eight years later. Dylan showed the way.
David Kelly: Remember the last pre-World Cup meeting we had? 2002? Outside your room in Saipan after everyone else had gone? You with no shirt on and Dylan blasting in the background?
Roy Keane: You were trying to get into my room, was that what it was?
DK: Still as big a Dylan fan as ever?
RK: Yeah, of course. He's the man, no doubts. I go to see him live as much as possible, yeah. He's still going strong too.
DK: That really left a lasting impression, in terms of all the madness of the time, you seemed so chilled. Not necessarily switched off, but switched into something else. There's this crazy tumult convulsing the whole world, it seemed, and the guy in the middle is the calmest of the lot! How come?
RK: I think for years and years, or whatever, my frustration, whatever stuff had gone on then, I'd come to a conclusion. I mean, I wasn't listening to Bob Dylan at 3.0am, I was thinking about what was happening. But then the next morning, when I knew the team was gone, I said it is over now. I said to myself : 'Hey, I may as well chill out and play a bit of music.' Do you know what I mean?
I wasn't chilled out throughout all of it. But there comes a point where you say: 'Ah listen'. And if there was ever a morning to listen to Bob, it was that morning. I remember that now, yeah, now that you're asking me.
I do remember incidents like that, there are times in your life and career you recall as an important time. That was one.
The team had gone by then. I thought there's no going back now. I might as well get my bag organised, pay my hotel bill and hopefully the flight will be okay. It wasn't like a doom and gloom moment. More, 'This is it'.